I want to use the word ataractically in a formal piece of writing. A derived form of ataraxia, I'd like to use it in a sentence like this:

This is the most ataractically candid thing I've ever written.

Is it acceptable to use ataractically, a word which I cannot find in a single dictionary, and which only has a couple of results in Google?

ataraxically is another possible form.

Besides whether it may be correct or not, is an audience likely to understand it? Assume they're highly educated and well-read.

I created a new question as I realised "ataractically" probably isn't going to be understood by 90% of my audience:
A better way of articulating 'ataractically candid'

closed as primarily opinion-based by MrHen, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Brian Hooper, RegDwigнt Oct 16 '13 at 7:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Why would you want to use a word that nobody else would understand? – John Lawler Feb 17 '13 at 20:47
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    Forgetting the particular word choice, the general question, yes, of course you can use words that are not explicitly stated in a dictionary. There are too many possible ways to extend existing words in a well-formed manner to list. These would not be considered neologisms. 'Neologistic' not in a dictionary...'neologistically' the same... 'paraneologistically'... 'paraneologisticalness' = the state of being almost a new word...none of these words are in a dictionary. – Mitch Feb 17 '13 at 21:50
  • Surely, to use it would be insegrevious. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '13 at 23:31

I've never seen any grammar rule that specifically says one cannot use the word ataractically; so I'd say it is not wrong to use it; but neither is it fully acceptable, because few people will understand it.

To my mind, the usual meaning of ataraxia (“(literary, Greek philosophy) A pleasure that comes when the mind is at rest”) does not lead directly to the usual meaning of ataractic (adj., “That has a tranquilizing effect” or noun, “(medicine) A drug that is used to tranquilize; a tranquilizer”). Moreover, the meaning of “ataractically candid” seems ambiguous; I don't see it as useful if you intend to communicate clearly. A tiny number of English speakers know the meanings of ataraxia and ataractic and a vanishingly small number will get some meaning from “ataractically candid”.

  • In fact, "ataractically candid" seems a little oxymoronic to me in that "ataraxia" connotes tranquilized, relaxed, and candid conveys a sense of clarity and forthrightness. – Kristina Lopez Feb 17 '13 at 20:56
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    From "La Palabra Dicha", by Octavio Páz: En otra galaxia, ¿Cómo se dice ataraxia? – John Lawler Feb 17 '13 at 21:44

I'm highly educated and well-read, but I've never heard of either ataraxia or ataractically. Still, if you think your readers will understand it and not think you're being hopelessly pretentious, then there's no reason why you shouldn't use it.

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    Even if OP moves in very rarefied circles indeed, and he could reasonably expect his audience to understand the term, I think I'd have to say such usage would always be "hopelessly pretentious". – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '13 at 21:05
  • @FumbleFingers Apparently you don’t read peer-reviewed technical journals much. This stuff is all over the place there. – tchrist Feb 17 '13 at 21:35
  • @tchrist: Given 0 results in Google Books, and only a single relevant instance on Google Internet for ataractically, one might suppose such (hopelessly pretentious) peer reviewers have to review each other's work, since no-one else does. – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '13 at 22:18
  • @FumbleFingers You misread me. I mean that it is normal to read hard-to-find words of Graeco-Roman extraction is such journals. I was not referring to that word in particular. Try reading biomedical journals for a while to see what I mean. Or linguistics. Or to lesser extent, computer science, except insofar as it intersects with the others. In any event, given that ataraxia itself is well attested, all that remains is applying standard rules of derivational morphology to derive valid forms. Doesn’t mean anybody will understand it, though. – tchrist Feb 17 '13 at 22:20
  • @tchrist: Ah well. Actually, I overstated my case. There are four relevant instances of the spelling ataraxically on the Internet, plus 3-4 on Google Books. And for all I know, I might have come across the word when studying for my degree (which included Lit Crit) - but if so, I don't regret my decision not to bother remembering it. – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '13 at 22:28

OED 1 has ataraxy, with variants ataraxie, ataraxia, but offers no recorded adjectival form. One of the three citations it provides suggests an alternative:

1864 R. BURTON Dahome II.98 The ataraxy and the comme il faut calm that characterizes the more refined Anglo-Tropical mind.

Ataractically candid feels wrong; you seem to be speaking of a candour originating in ataraxy, but this suggests candour marked by ataraxy.

In any case, I, too, am highly educated and well-read and I had to look up ataraxia. If you are not addressing an audience familiar with Hellenistic philosophies I suggest serenely instead.

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